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Meditations in an Emergency: Finding Moments of Peace When Times are Hard

With the world in a seemingly constant state of chaotic change, moments of quiet and calm can be hard to come by. Enter self-care hero: mindfulness meditation.
by Amy Leonard | Jul 2 2020

You’d be forgiven for thinking that self-care is a term mostly used to sell things on Instagram. However, the reality is that self-care has very little to do with cosmetics or confusing beauty contraptions and best of all, can be entirely free. Just a minute for yourself is all you need.

Mindfulness meditation offers you the opportunity to create pockets of peace for yourself in the midst of difficult times. One of the biggest problems when it comes to practicing mindfulness and meditation, however, is that it’s often the exact times that people think they can’t do it that they probably need it the most.

When world events are distracting and distressing, when work is overwhelming, when parenting is hard, when our personal lives feel beyond our control, or when people are making demands on our attention, it can feel impossible to find a moment of stillness for ourselves. But that’s exactly when meditation exercises can be the most useful.

mindfulness meditation

Learning how to practice meditation can change your life. Seriously. It’s been scientifically-proven that mindfulness meditation has the ability to rewire the brain’s hardware. This tumultuous year has brought changes to life as we knew it, so why not change your mindset, too? The Blinkist library has a wealth of resources that can teach you how to practice meditation, so that you are equipped with the tools to deal with whatever else 2020 has to throw at us.

Whether it’s right now readjusting to a pandemic-impacted life, or years from now going through difficulty on a personal level, meditation exercises can help you through life at its hardest. Let’s explore just how to practice meditation and the benefits it offers.

Practice Self-Compassion

Practice what now? We hear you, but just give it a chance. In her book Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff explores the ways in which we treat and talk to ourselves. Self-criticism, she says, and feelings of inadequacy can stem from both childhood experiences and societal pressure. We hold ourselves to extremely high standards and beat ourselves up when we don’t reach them.

Though some argue that self-criticism can be a helpful motivational tool, it is more often than not excessively negative, harsh and downright damaging. Neff explains how self-compassion is a kinder, healthier and much more helpful alternative. By reacting to your own mishaps, setbacks and emotions the way you would to a loved one’s — with kindness, empathy and comfort — you naturally reduce the pain involved. By being compassionate to yourself and gentle in your reaction to the initial mistake or event, you take away the process of berating yourself over it, alleviating additional stress and negativity.

Allow Space for Overwhelming Feelings

It is entirely natural to feel overwhelmed by what is happening at the moment. Such huge global events and waves of change can consume us, with loneliness, mortality and fear clouding our vision and blocking the blue sky that lies behind them. There are ways however, to allow space for these feelings, to accept and deal with them.

Though first published in 1996, Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart is particularly relevant today, when it seems as though the world itself is falling apart. Chödrön explores how to overcome life’s difficulties, using methods from meditation to self-compassion to breathing techniques. She discusses the “three truths of existence” — impermanence, suffering and egolessness, each an overwhelming concept in themselves — and how accepting, embracing and celebrating these can bring us peace and happiness.

Stop Seeking Results

In modern Western culture, the norm is to constantly push, achieve, succeed. We measure our own worth and value by our accomplishments, the concrete results we can measure. To find inner peace however, we need to approach things differently. If we see peace, calm and happiness as goals to be reached in the future, then the likelihood is you’ll worry and stress about reaching them, and miss actually experiencing them every day.

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn explains how meditation and mindfulness help with this. What is extremely useful for those that are new to this is that he teaches how to practice meditation from the very first step. He explains that the goal isn’t to stop having negative thoughts or emotions, but to be able to accept and deal with them as they arise. It is a continuous process; a bodybuilder doesn’t work hard for months then simply stop once they have a six pack. In the same way, we can imagine mindfulness as a muscle and meditation as strength training for it. By continuing to meditate, the more you will experience mindfulness naturally in your everyday life.

Allow Yourself to Step Away from Negative Influences

One hugely important aspect of self-care is being able to recognize things which have a detrimental effect on you, and distance yourself from them. Social media, as most of us know, can be toxic when we spend too much time wrapped up in it. But it’s also OK to admit that you may need a break from the news, especially at the moment when there is such a fast-spinning cycle of mostly negative stories. Allowing yourself this headspace is a form of self-compassion.

It isn’t just screens that you may need a break from. Enforcing boundaries when people ask too much of you, and saying no to things is also important. When you feel like you’re being pulled in every direction, trying to meet the demands and expectations of your job, family and friends, you can easily slip into emotional exhaustion.

In their book Burnout, sisters Emily Nagoski PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA explain how Human Giver Syndrome can be a key component. Women, in particular, suffer from this, often as a result of societal expectations where they are expected to devote their time, attention and energy to others. Stopping and taking a step back from this traditional role will allow you the space to think of your own needs for a change.

Meditate in a Way That Works for You

If you’re new to the practice, trying to sit in silence and still your mind can seem impossible. On any given day, there are a million things to think about on a personal level, never mind when you add in a pandemic and all the other events shaking up the world today. In his book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, Dan Harris recommends focusing on a sensation that works for you. The most common sensation to focus on is the breath. Try focusing on your chest rising and falling, your stomach expanding and contracting, or noting every ‘in’ and ‘out’, or counting each breath. If that doesn’t work how about focusing on the ticking clock or sensation of your body on the chair.

It is important to remember though, that the main aim of meditation is to let go of stress, worry, fear or whatever else is clogging up your mind. You don’t necessarily have to sit cross-legged on the floor to do it. Find whatever works for you, whether it’s a gentle push in the right direction by listening to a guided meditation, taking a walk or a bike ride to clear your head, sitting in and appreciating nature or writing down how you feel so you really register it at that moment. Those can all be meditative activities, too.

Take Just One Minute

A common misconception people have about meditation is that they don’t have time for it, but just 60 seconds can be enough to get your practice started. Harris also recommends this in Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, which focuses on teaching skeptical people how to practice meditation gently, step by step, and convincing them of its benefits. Just one minute, he says, is all you need; take the pressure off trying to schedule it into your busy day by taking a minute whenever you have one. Ten deep breaths every day could be the gateway to your meditation journey.

These may be challenging times and some things may be out of your control, but by learning how to practice meditation you can regain some of that control and deal with issues that arise with a clearer mind. If there was ever a time to give it a try, now seems like a good one!

If you want to learn more about meditation and mindfulness, why not check out our list of the best mindfulness books, or check out their key insights on the Blinkist app.

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